Rumor: Apple to use drones, indoor navigation to help round out Maps data

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Date: Friday, December 2nd, 2016, 05:29
Category: Google, iOS, Rumor

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Everyone’s starting to use drones for mapping these days and Apple is apparently no exception.

The company plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google, according to sources close to the story.

The Cupertino, California-based company is assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts that will use drones to capture and update map information faster than its existing fleet of camera-and-sensor ladened minivans, one of the sources said.

Apple seems to want to fly things around to map things like street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the source said. The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added.


Apple is also working on updated features for Maps, including views inside buildings and improvements to car navigation, another person familiar with the efforts said. Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

The effort come almost five years after Apple’s introduction of Maps on the iPhone. The first version featured glaring errors like mismatch business signs and an incorrect airport address. Apple lacked the technology needed to quickly suck in data from many different sources to evaluate and change the digital maps.

Since Apple Maps launched, the company has improved the app by more quickly updating data, adding a mode for navigating public transit systems, improving search results, and opening the platform to outside services such as Uber ride-hailing and OpenTable restaurant reservations. The drone initiative is a continuation of this effort and is unlikely to be related to a commercial Apple drone product.

Apple is said to have filed for an FAA exemption on September 21st, 2015, that would allow them to fly drones for commercial purposes. n a response dated March 22, 2016, the FAA granted Apple approval to “operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography, and videography,” according to one of the documents.

Apple’s application told the FAA that it would use a range of drones sold by companies such as SZ DJI Technology Co. and Aibotix GmbH to collect the data.

Official guidelines for commercial drone operation were instated in August, restricting flying to mostly daytime hours and requiring licensed pilots to operate the equipment while keeping the drones in their line of sight. Apple committed to these guidelines, according to the FAA documents.

Current regulations restrict commercial drones from flying over people and buildings, potentially limiting Apple’s initiative for the time being. Apple could meanwhile fly the drones in the U.S. within FAA guidelines and fly without restriction in countries without commercial drone regulations.

Apple has hired at least one staff member from Amazon’s Prime Air division to help run the drone team according to an anonymous source. Prime Air is Amazon’s initiative to quickly deliver packages via drones. The Apple team is being assembled in Seattle, the same city as Amazon’s headquarters.

Beyond better data collection, Apple is developing an indoor mapping view that would allow users to navigate airports, and other high-traffic buildings like museums using iPhones, according to another person.

The company purchased startup Indoor.io in 2015 to help round out its indoor mapping efforts. Apple has confirmed the purchase, but declined to explain why it initiated the deal. The company also bought WiFiSlam in 2013, another startup with indoor navigation expertise.

Indoor location tracking is achieved via a combination of technologies inside the latest iPhones, including pressure sensors, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Apple is also working on a feature that provides better guidance for changing lanes while driving, one of the people said. Both features are planned for release next year but could be held back, the person said.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Via Bloomberg

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